Guide note shifting??

January 19, 2020, 12:27 PM · How common is the teaching of guide note shifting, in which one shifts to the note beyond the target, and then depresses the neighbor finger on the target note? I find this technique very annoying, and wonder why shifting straight to the target note is not the favored technique (by my teacher). What school is this guide note shifting style from?

Replies (30)

January 19, 2020, 2:28 PM · Erin, I suppose you are talking about an increasing scale where you shift up from, e.g., 1st to 3rd position. In that case a standard technique is indeed to shift on the last used finger into the desired position. When playing an increasing scale that means indeed ending up one note higher than the next note you need to play. This technique is beneficial because you practice shifting up a minor or major third on any given finger (although in your case it will typically be the second finger, perhaps the third finger). Actually, how would you define "shifting straight to the target note?"
January 19, 2020, 3:09 PM · Thank you, Jean. I wondered if the guide note system is worth the extra trouble of seeking and sounding the note ahead of the next one to play. It seems logical that guide note shifting will result in good muscle memory training, but it is an extra step...I guess I am lazy and would prefer not to first sound the guide note 1 (or 1/2) step up, and instead go directly to the target note. Do you know who is the "author" of this guide note technique for shift training?
January 19, 2020, 3:18 PM · While the experienced player will jump straight to the new note, we still have to have the remaining fingers hovering over succeeding notes in the new position.

The guide finger can be the index: it is worth playing four-note groups in each position up the fingerboard, in the same key, to learn the finger patterns.

January 19, 2020, 5:34 PM · I think your teacher maybe attempting to make a difficult shift easier for you to execute. The shift you are describing maybe where you shift up from a higher finger to lower finger, eg, 2nd finger first position to 1st finger third position. Usually the 1st finger would be the guide note as it shifts from 1st pos to 3rd pos, but in this case the 2nd finger is used as the guide note in order to maintain the sound of the interval which is involved in the shift. I think you will return to standard shifting once you have developed the ability to co-ordinate the shift with the interval.
January 19, 2020, 5:40 PM · So it sounds like “Old Finger Shifting” where you shift to the position you will be playing in then play the note with the finger that you would use in that position. I view it as a practice technique to get your hand in the right position, not to be able to play the note with your hand in a random spot. On shifting, I try to practice it and hope that with this practice, it will be natural to have my hand in the right spot when I am not thinking about it. I actually kind of enjoy the structure that it necessitates.


sorry if that is confusing.

January 19, 2020, 7:47 PM · Erin - try to think of it as a learning device. I do it when I am first studying a piece to make sure I get the interval right. Once I have the piece under my fingers, I stop using it.
Edited: January 19, 2020, 8:21 PM · I hope very common because it's really the best way. Going straight to the target just sounds lime amateur strategy, or lack of it. Of course there are specific cases where it makse sense, but not generally. Every rule has exceptions. Also remember that it's your arm that does the shifting going up or down, not your hand or your fingers.
I use to tell my students that you need to have solid ground and walls in order to build the roof, you don't try to build a floating roof.
Your arm/first finger need to remember exactly where each position is, then you place the rest of the fingers on that. When the guide note is your first finger, that's great! When it isn't, still ally both practicing strategies.
The guide note even sonds beautiful most of the times, you hear lots of them in almost every recordings.
January 19, 2020, 8:13 PM · Twenty years ago the violin coach of my community orchestra suggested aiming to land your 1st finger on the appropriate note for the position you were aiming to land in with whatever finger you were planning to land. It did indeed seem to work.

He really should have known after 20 years as principal 2nd violin for the San Francisco Symphony and at least 4 decades as concertmaster of the Marin Symphony.

January 19, 2020, 8:55 PM · Guide nots, also called shifting notes of ghosting notes, are standard in schools of playing - I've never met a teacher who doesn't teach this way although they may have a different names for them. If you read major pedagogy books (Gerle, Fischer etc) they are all referenced there too. I have a playlist for my students for practicing shifts in 8 different ways, but shifting notes is number one in the list :) In case you are interested, link below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPNoHOctP6o&list=PLcsxEkYPwGvzP05DKO2tgrXRAADeeM6G2

Edited: January 19, 2020, 10:41 PM · "I find this technique very annoying, and wonder why shifting straight to the target note is not the favored technique (by my teacher). "

What is annoying you is probably not the technique, which is a proven bedrock of solid shifting, but the thought that you have to change what you're doing.

It's all about percentages: Sure, you can learn to to shift fairly well without the use of an index finger. But we aren't required to just shift well--it needs to be 99.999% there. Not 95, for which you'd, mathematically, be missing 1/20 of your shifts. So the question is whether you want to be pretty accurate...or VERY accurate.

You can easily see virtuosi using this technique all the time. In fact, they often don't even bother to hide it--it becomes a kind of portamento. It's not entirely clear whether your teacher is in favor of this or isn't. I would say that a teacher who is not teaching the use of an index finger for shifting is not a great teacher, and I have to wonder what other deficiencies you are getting away with.

January 20, 2020, 10:02 AM · Sounding the guide note is done for practice purposes. As you become better at shifting, you will start to choose which finger you shift up on and which finger you land on. This will be done for both expressive purposes (the "Heifetz" vs "Kreisler" shifts you may have seen referenced in other posts), and for security.

My teacher has a belief that shifting to the middle of the hand (the 2nd or 3rd finger) is, for advanced players executing big, dangerous leaps, safer than shifting to the index finger. I think this is true, but for players early in their shifting experience, the index will be your guide in most cases. (Indeed I think it's sometimes easier to think about shifting to the whole 1-4 octave frame of the hand, which mentally positions all the fingers in the right place.)

January 20, 2020, 10:55 AM · Thank you Jean, Adrian, Henry, Johann, Tom, David, Andrew,Susanna, Scott, and Lydia! I appreciate your assurance that my teacher's insistence on using the guide note system for learning shifts is a standard teaching method...I will just work harder to reap the benefits. Guess I was unaware that there is much more to position shifts than meets the eye.
Edited: January 20, 2020, 1:17 PM · Repeating what the others wrote;
Shifting -- The majority opinion is that you use "guide"-notes or shifting-notes, or "ghost"-notes. Shift on the last used finger, then replace it with the next finger after arrival. This allows it to also be converted into an expressive portamento when desired. My only exception is the fourth finger. I don't like to shift Up on a fourth finger. Being able to shift on the 2nd or 3rd finger is of equal importance as the first. The first finger is in that cramped "square" formation and tends to wander. In slow tempos I like to use the scale fingering of 2-3-2-3-etc. Two reasons to shift on the previous finger; we get a better feel for the important interval distance between the positions, and the finger is less likely to dig into the fingerboard, causing friction and intonation problems. Switching fingers while shifting forces the hand to release pressure. In performance, after training the arm to move the correct distance, we frequently switch fingers sometime during the shift.
January 20, 2020, 8:54 PM · Whistler's Introducing the Positions has lots of index shifting.
Edited: January 21, 2020, 8:51 AM · I sympathize with your "annoyance," Erin. As a youngster, I was of the "leap and land" school of shifting, which I had worked up to about 96% effectiveness, meaning about 1 in 25 shifts failed miserably. Now I am having to relearn shifting with guide notes. Kreutzer 11 is a good one for that. Mimi Zweig has a short video on how to practice it: http://www.stringpedagogy.com/members/volumes/streaming/223.htm.
January 21, 2020, 9:41 AM · My teacher taught me this way, and it works very well. She taught me to always come up from below—never from above. Usually to land on another note in the chord or on whatever note the first finger takes in the position you're aiming for.
January 21, 2020, 10:50 AM · I'm with Cotton. If you're shifting up, you use a guide finger if you are shifting to a higher finger, but you try and shift through the starting finger with the lower finger if shifting up to a lower finger.

As long as it's relaxed and sounds good, and either way there is no jumping - Your finger glides the whole way.

January 21, 2020, 11:39 AM · Galamian talked about shifting on the old finger being 'French school' and shifting on the new finger being 'Russian school'. I haven't heard any other teachers talk about this difference from a nationality perspective, and maybe the difference was only evident in the early 20th Century.
January 21, 2020, 1:31 PM · James,
I think both can be valid for shifting--it depends on the context. But I think most people may use French vs. Russian when they're talking about slides.

"...Usually to land on another note in the chord or on whatever note the first finger takes in the position you're aiming for..."

Don't assume it's all about the 1st finger. Any note can be an index finger, and 2 is useful when reaching for 4.

January 22, 2020, 6:16 AM · There is also stretch-regroup, or even slip-stretch-regroup shifting.
But to regroup well, we still have to have established the virtual note-mapping by patient, systematic practice.
January 22, 2020, 7:15 AM · Susanna, Thank you for the link to the Practice Blitz channel. It is very generous of you to give your time to make such helpful videos.
January 22, 2020, 10:20 AM · James - my teacher discusses the different methods of shifting and slides with me in terms of French/Russian; my childhood teacher was firmly in the Russian camp and that was how I shifted and held my bow, and I've been retrained in the French style. It's nice to be able to use one or the other, context dependent.

I find that the "guide" note method of shifting has been really helpful for me, and I now appreciate the annoyance of having to change my shifting "method". That is, if you could even call what I was doing before a "method" - it was super amateur-y and far more annoying than using a guide-note for re-learning shifts because of its general lack of accuracy. I'm glad that my teacher insisted that I do this work.

Edited: January 22, 2020, 10:50 AM · If you have a chance to read the Yankelevich book, he talks about shifting in detail, but cautions against shifting above the note you are trying to get to. He does talk about guide notes, but not in that context.

I think Flesch says the same thing, but I'd have to check on that.

January 22, 2020, 11:27 AM · I think the important part is that you never lose the contact between a finger and the string, so you have tactile feedback that's telling your brain how far you've gone.

I never shift up beyond the note that I am landing on, but I might have a virtual landing in my head -- for instance, a 3rd-finger G high on the E string (which I never put down, but have in my head), in order to place the 1st finger on an E-flat that is a less "reliable" note to shift to.

Every player eventually ends up with mental reference points on the fingerboard where they can go effortlessly and difficult shifts are executed relative to those reference points. For most people that starts with knowing where the harmonics are.

January 22, 2020, 3:42 PM · I always encourage my students to be able, at the very least, to know where the octave (mid-point) of each string is, because so many other pitches can be found from there.

In my case, even after a lifetime of playing, I feel that I know some places on the string better than others. It could be age-related: perhaps after some certain age, one may never entirely "know" the fingerboard with certainty. Maybe the best argument for starting early.

January 22, 2020, 5:09 PM · One of the oddities I discovered of having taken a long break from the violin is that after a decade, I could not quite remember where the pitches were for high-position shifting. But they remained in my memory. I could stop, actively summon the memory of the kinesthetic feeling into my head, and then execute the shift correctly at speed. The problem was that it took me a moment to retrieve the memory from the back of my brain -- to go from cold storage to active storage, so to speak. I spent a couple of hours one weekend, doing shifting exercises out of Simon Fischer's "Basics", actively retrieving the memories, and that re-solidified everything all at once.

It convinced me that there's a major muscle memory (kinesthetic memory) component to it even if exact intonation is dependent on on-the-fly adjustment, such that we still shift correctly even when the string is badly out of tune.

February 1, 2020, 9:34 PM · Nathan Cole covers best practices on guide notes pretty well in this video:

https://youtu.be/aqI_lxX9W_Y
Edited: February 2, 2020, 11:41 AM · Thank you all for more helpful replies! And thank you Jason, for the link to Nathan Cole's video. I like how NC emphasizes shifting is ear work rather than finger work; somehow this makes the whole concept much less intimidating...
February 2, 2020, 1:19 PM · Yes, Erin, I had the same thought about it:)
February 2, 2020, 4:41 PM · .….shifting is ear work....


I would have thought that was apparent. Everything involved in violin playing is 'ear work'. It is important to know the sounds of all intervals. The guide notes are just that, they are a 'guide' to reaching the interval; still need to be able to hear that interval. :)

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